In Italy meatballs are normally not fried or baked first but directly cooked in a simple sauce of tomato puree and fresh basil. The resulting rich and flavorful sauce is then often used alone as topping for pasta, which is served as first course and in small portions. The meatballs are always served as second course paired with some vegetables or, especially in summer, just with a mixed salad.
Ingredients and Instructions (serves 4):
- 2 eggs
- 1 pound/450 grams of ground beef
- ¼ pound/110 grams of ground pork
- 6 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 3.5 ounces/100 grams of fresh artisan bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons of Italian parsley, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 pinch of nutmeg
- 28 ounces/790 grams of tomato puree
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 6 leaves of fresh basil, cut in ribbons
- Start by removing enough soft crumbs from a loaf of artisan bread to make the necessary quantity as indicated above. Using your hands or with the help of a food processor reduce it into fine crumbs (using fresh crumbs instead of dry will make the meatballs moister).
- In a large mixing bowl combine both types of meat with the bread crumbs, the 2 eggs, grated Parmesan cheese, chopped parsley, nutmeg, a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Work the ingredients together so to obtain a smooth mixture, then transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and let the mix rest for about one hour.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet over low heat, gently sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil, stirring frequently to avoid burning, until the onion becomes translucent.
- Add the tomato puree, a pinch of salt and pepper and bring to a light boil. At this point, you should have the meatballs ready to be cooked in the sauce. If not, cover the skillet remove it from the heat and keep it warm.
- Prepare the meat balls, by rolling some of the meat mixture in the palms of your hands and form a small ball, about 1½ inch (4 cm) in diameter. Repeat with the rest of the mixture.
- Gently lay the meatballs in the skillet with the tomato sauce, shaking it lightly to get them to set in the sauce. Add the basil and let them cook slowly, covering the pan with a lid and over low heat, for about ½ hour, until the meatballs are fully cooked and the sauce has thickened.
- Turn off the heat, adjust the sauce salt and pepper as needed and serve warm, with or without pasta.
Cinzia Aversa, 2013